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Tampa Bay Rays donate $50,000 to St. Petersburg mayoral hopeful Ken Welch

Welch said he solicited “something comparable to the contribution of Rick Kriseman.” The outgoing mayor received $50,000 from the Rays in his 2017 re-election bid.
Mayoral candidate Ken Welch addresses supporters gathered during a primary-night watch party at Painting With a Twist in late August. The race continues into November for a runoff between Welch and Robert Blackmon.
Mayoral candidate Ken Welch addresses supporters gathered during a primary-night watch party at Painting With a Twist in late August. The race continues into November for a runoff between Welch and Robert Blackmon. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Oct. 6

ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays made a $50,000 contribution to Ken Welch’s campaign to be the next mayor of St. Petersburg.

Welch told the Tampa Bay Times that he asked the Rays for “something comparable to the contribution of Rick Kriseman because I’ve been just as strong as a proponent on the County Commission,” referencing his 20-year tenure on the Pinellas board. The donation is not yet reflected in his campaign contribution disclosures, but Welch said it will be listed Sunday.

In 2017, the Rays donated $50,000 to Kriseman’s 2017 re-election bid, though their total contributions among the team and through individual donations by owner Stu Sternberg and executives totaled at least $81,500. Kriseman is now term-limited. Welch faces Robert Blackmon in the Nov. 2 general election.

“I’ve always been supportive of the Rays,” he said. “When they wanted to look in Tampa for three years I’ve supported that because I do think we need to bring this to a conclusion and have some certainty.”

Welch said he led the effort to add a sixth additional penny and bed tax earmarked for a new baseball stadium. He said he helped lead the charge to make the stadium taxable to the county.

“So yeah, I asked, ‘Why would you support me to any lesser of a degree than you supported Kriseman?’” Welch said.

Rays spokeswoman Rafaela Amador declined to comment.

News broke this week that the Rays are interested in an Ybor City site near Hillsborough Community College, though local officials say much remains uncertain, including infrastructure upgrades necessary to make the former Kforce headquarters into a major league ballpark.

Kriseman’s spokesperson, Ben Kirby, said St. Petersburg’s talks with the Rays and a hired consultant are ongoing. In August, Kriseman said a pick was coming “within the next couple of weeks,” though he was supposed to make a decision in May.

The University of South Florida wrote a letter to the city this week asking for a seat at the table regarding Tropicana Field with hopes of including a “concept of a Tech Campus” as part of the development.